The Canberra Raiders’ surge towards the 2020 NRL Telstra Premiership title takes flight on Saturday, 3 October, with an elimination final against old foes the Cronulla Sharks at GIO Stadium. To mark the game, here are the seven NRL finals the club has hosted since 2000, ranked from the good to the extraordinary.
7) Qualifying Final, 2003: Melbourne Storm 30 – Canberra Raiders 18
The build-up to this qualifying final was spicy with Storm coach Craig Bellamy accusing Raiders counterpart Matt Elliott of complaining to the NRL about Melbourne’s use of wrestling manoeuvres. On the afternoon on match day, a hail storm dumped on the ACT, which made for a slippery and bitterly cold night. The Raiders jumped to a 12-0 lead; however, a Matt Orford masterclass steered the Storm to a 30-18 victory – ironic for Raiders fans given Orford’s disastrous stint in lime green in 2011.
6) Semifinal, 2016: Canberra Raiders 22 – Penrith Panthers 12
Putting the loss to the Sharks in the qualifying final a week earlier behind them, the Raiders regrouped against the Panthers. Despite being heavy favourites, Canberra was wary of Penrith after they’d demolished the Bulldogs in the elimination final just six days earlier. In a game that never reached any great heights, the Raiders led all night with tries to Blake Austin, Jordan Rapana and Jarrod Croker. A couple of late Croker penalty goals snuffed out hopes of a Panthers comeback and the Raiders marched on to the preliminary final in Melbourne.
5) Qualifying Final, 2016: Cronulla Sharks 16 – Canberra Raiders 14
This epic night at GIO Stadium will go down in Raiders’ folklore, even though it was the one that got away. More than 25,000 fans set the tone with a spine-tingling Viking clap and the home side responded by jumping to an early 12-0 lead with tries to Josh Hodgson and an 80-metre runaway dash from Jordan Rapana. But from the 17th minute onwards, the Raiders could only muster a second-half penalty goal – their attack stunted once Hodgson limped off with an ankle injury – as the Sharks powered home to prevail 16-14 in a thriller. At full-time, Cronulla hooker Michael Ennis famously performed an impromptu Viking clap to rile the hostile crowd as his side marched towards the NRL title.
4) Elimination Final, 2012: Canberra Raiders 34 – Cronulla Sharks 16
A late-season charge saw the Raiders win their last five games to finish sixth and earn a home final against the Sharks. On a sunny Canberra afternoon, with Raiders fever in the air, more than 24,000 fans sardined into GIO Stadium to catch a team with the momentum of a freight train. Despite the Sharks scoring early, Canberra’s attacking juggernaut kicked into gear with a double to winger Sandor Earl. With 20 minutes remaining, the visitors got within two points thanks to a try from a shocking forward pass, but then the Green Machine piled on four tries in the final 13 minutes – including a double to Blake Ferguson, the other half of the popular #dorguson bromance with Earl – to win 34-16.
3) Semifinal, 2010: Wests Tigers 26 – Canberra Raiders 24
The Raiders sat outside the NRL top eight all regular season until the penultimate round thanks to nine wins from their last 10 games. Then an upset 24-22 victory against the second-placed Panthers in week one of the playoffs handed David Furner’s men a home final against the Tigers, the club’s first in the national capital since 2003. With 26,476 fans squeezed in, memories of the Raiders’ glory days of the 1990s flooded back. Down by 12 in the second half, the Green Machine got within two points when Jarrod Croker had a chance to level the scores with a shot at goal 30 metres out with three minutes remaining. But he shanked the kick and the Tigers held on in a thriller. A phenomenal night, but that loss hurt.
2) Qualifying Final, 2000: Canberra Raiders 34 – Penrith Panthers 16
With three rounds remaining in the 2000 season, club legends Laurie Daley, Brett Mullins and David Furner were farewelled in what was expected to be their last appearance at home in lime green. However, the trio was back for an encore when the Raiders nabbed a home qualifying final against the Panthers. Although Canberra trailed 16-6 in the first half, more than 18,000 fans were treated to a second-half blitz in which Daley, Brett Finch and Simon Woolford orchestrated 28 unanswered points. The final try to Jamaal Lolesi was a 100 metre team effort that raised the roof of the Mal Meninga Stand.
1) Preliminary Final, 2019: Canberra Raiders 16 – South Sydney Rabbitohs 10
The Raiders’ heroic 12-10 win against the Storm in week one of the NRL finals catapulted Ricky Stuart’s side directly into a home preliminary final against the Rabbitohs. Nervous anticipation reverberated around the ACT all week in scenes reminiscent of 1994 when the Raiders last reached the grand final. In front of a record crowd of 26,567, the Rabbitohs dominated second-half possession but were constantly denied by a green wall. With the Raiders in front 10-6 but down to 12 men with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad in the sin-bin, Josh Papalii bulldozed his way across the stripe to seal a place in the decider and unleash wild scenes not seen at Bruce for 25 years. A stunning night in the proud club’s history.
NRL Elimination Final: Canberra Raiders versus Cronulla Sharks, Saturday, 3 October, 5:40 pm, GIO Stadium.